The LGBT community still faces a lot of challenges, especially in third world countries. Young people growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) in most African countries face several difficulties including discrimination and social ostracism.

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Many end up disconnected from their homes, schools and communities. Some end up running away into exile to avoid being punished by the society.

 

Well, gay rights activist Denis Nzioka has highlighted the challenges gay men face and he says Nairobi is no longer safe for gay men.

Here’s Dennis Nzioka’s open letter

“Gay dating apps – currently at a consumable peak – within the gay men community in Nairobi, are the riskiest form of meeting anyone for a while now. Cases of victims who are kidnapped, beaten, and eventually extorted money from, continue to point at a cancer that has refused to heal. Some of these cases involve sexual assault, and sadly, rape.

 

The advent of gay dating apps such as Grindr, Hornet, and Manjam was hailed as a success story – gay men could, within the comfort of their phones, seek partners, relationships, meet, and even engage in sexual activity with other gay men. Gone are the days when gay men would scout bars or corners on the streets or bushes to engage in romance, foreplay, or actual sex. It was a welcome change – so welcome, that Tinder, Badoo and others were developed to cater for straight people.

It was in early 2006 when the first cases of blackmail were reported in Nairobi. A victim would often meet someone on these Apps, and then go meet the person at their house. Unfortunately, such scenarios escalated into people forcing themselves in the house, demanding money, while assaulting the victim. They were then forced to send money, or call people on their phone addresses to send money. Conveniently, the blackmailers would then withdraw the cash, either from an M-pesa agent, or do online bank transfers. Its in two cases I am aware of where the victim and his captors went to the bank and made an over-the-counter withdrawal.

This situation reached its crescendo between 2011 and 2015 when more and more victims came out to share their stories. Most had hidden this out of fear or shame. The stories were harrowing – beatings, being forced to be baked and photographed, or used condoms being placed on you as the captors took photos, threats, and in some cases, being raped by one or several of the captors.

Activists, growing concerned were forced in a box. How do you report a crime when it was done, essentially, when another crime was being done? How do you go to a police station to report that someone has been assaulted, or raped, in another man’s house, who he met online, ostensibly for sex? On the other hand, victims were afraid of making police statements as most were not known to be gay and did not want the cases to go forward out of fear of being outed as gay. We were in a fix.

Of course, creatively, we generated information, and mapped out areas, and showed the various ways in which to spot or confirm who you met on the other end of the App. This worked, but not well enough. More gay men started to become cautious over who they met. Others demanded more information from people they met online. Others preferred to meet dates in public spaces. Good, but not enough.

The cases went down significantly. I know this because I singlehandedly led efforts to unmask and expose this scam that involved, in some cases, even corrupt police officers who were used to intimidate the victims incase they did not pay up. So extraordinary were these efforts, that Grindr nowadays has an occasional pop-up window once you log in on how to be safe when using the App – something that they piloted only in Kenya.

But still, one or two cases reached my desk – same modus operandi – online hook-up, meeting in strangers’ houses, and then other people entering to find you in the middle of sex, and then it happens. Most of the victims, even with the information available out there, fell to the trap that is blamed on the need for sexual intimacy and physical expression with another individual. As they say, the thirst is real.

Priests, lawyers, doctors, husbands, students, touts, tourists, and in one case, a prominent politician have all fallen victim to this extortion that is compounded by the fact that same sex relations are punishable by law. It has been argued, from our assessments, that the blackmailers are driven by poverty or are just criminals out to make a quick buck. Partly true. Various factors can be attributed to this – including criminalisation of homosexuality, the emergence of new, easy to install technology that makes it easier to share information online, or meet people, among others.

Gay men in Kenya live in a criminalized society. It is worse when innovative ways to circumvent our need for, and pursuit of happiness, relationship, or just a lay, have become the very way that further puts us at risk.

Nairobi is not safe for gay men. It has never been. My advice to all gay men out there – its better to be less horny, and more cautious.

 

 

MPASHO TV